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Musical Miasma & Putrid Poetry

(6 posts)
Music and poetry are emotive, and when something—especially an entrenched “old favorite”—grabs our emotions, discernment often takes a back seat.

You Ask Me How I Know He Lives

Monday··2014·04·21 · 2 Comments
I serve a risen Savior (“He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father almighty”. From thence he sent the Holy Spirit, who is in the world today.) I know that He is living, Whatever men may say. I see His hand of mercy; I read His words of cheer; And just the time I need Him He, my great High Priest, intercedes for me with the Father. “Therefore let us draw near . . .” He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He teaches, reproves, corrects, and trains me in righteousness as I “let [his Word] richly dwell within [me] ” along life’s narrow way. He lives, He lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know He lives? He promised that he would rise from the dead, the angel announced that he had, he appeared to the Apostles and others, and the Holy Spirit recorded it all in Scripture, which “I have treasured in my heart.” And that’s all I have to say about that.

Prints by the Pond

I have never liked that Footprints poem. Every now and then I see someone point out the fact that God carries his children constantly, not just through tough times. This, of course, is a crucial correction, but it eviscerates the verse, leaving only a twosome of toe tracks on the trail. What to do? We can’t afford to purge this precious piece of classic Christian kitsch completely, can we?* In service to affected art aficionados, I offer this adjusted adaptation, which is, I hope, theologically thoughtful, while maintaining a measure of maudlin mawkishness. * Yes.

Andy Walks with Me

Let’s fix an “old favorite.” First, we’ll have to remove the mystical, sentimental gibberish. Then, we’ll fill the holes with something biblical, while retaining the rhyme and meter. I come to the Scriptures alone, Where God gives me his revelation, And the truth I see, there revealed to me Is his own incarnation. RefrainAnd He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own; And the joy we share as we tarry there, By only God’s children is known. He speaks through the words on the page, Words so sweet, with comfort are ringing, And the truth therein bids me turn from sin— To Christ I am now clinging. Refrain I’ll let his Word richly indwell With all wisdom teaching, exhorting With hymns and songs, gratitude belongs Through Christ through God the Father.* Refrain Now, there is something to sing about. * Colossians 3:16–17

Hey, hey, we’re narcissistic

Come, now is the time to worship. Come, now is the time to give your heart. Come, just as you are, to worship. Come, just as you are, before your God. —Brian Doerksen We’re going to ignore the fact that this song was written by modalist heretics whose god is not our God [see correction at bottom], and just look at the words, which are typical of so many so-called “worship” songs sung in evangelical churches everywhere. First, look at the subject: “you,” and what you are to do “now” at this “time,” that is, “worship.” It reminds me of another song you might have heard: Here we are Sittin’ in the pew, We’re gonna sing about all the Churchy things we do. Hey, hey, we’re narcissistic, We ought to point to him who is true, But we’re too busy singin’ About the pious things we do. Is singing about worshipping actually worshipping? Of course not. Singing—and preaching—about God’s character and works, and praising him for them, is worshipping. Second, see the doctrine: Come, just as you are, before your God. Can we really come just as we are? Surely, we cannot clean ourselves up enough to worthily stand before God. In a sense, he does take us just as we are. We come to him unclean (Isaiah 64:6), and beseech him to do the cleansing (Psalm 51:2, 7, 10). But God demands something of us in worship: For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. —Psalm 51:16–17 Worship is only true worship when it comes from a humble spirit. “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” This is an elliptical expression—that is to say, there is more said than is actually printed: God will despise a proud, self-righteous heart. He will, as Cain learned, reject the worship of the proud. We are warned of this very thing in 1 Corinthians 11:27–29. We do not need to come perfectly cleansed—indeed, we cannot—but we do need to come repentant, in humility. Finally, it is fair to recognize that the song contains some truth. One day every tongue will confess you are God. One day every knee will bow. You should recognize that as Philippians 2:9–11. But then there is this: Still the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose you now. Sure, I’m a pedantic Calvinist, but it doesn’t take a Calvinist to know that You did not choose Me but I chose you . . . —John 15:16 Still, I can hear some saying, “But I like that song.” If you think that is in any way relevant, you really don’t know what worship is. The Original Worship Band Correction: I had originally credited Phillips, Craig, and Dean with this song, but was corrected by this gentleman. It was actually written by Brian Doerksen, who is “a lapsed Mennonite turned Vineyard-ite,” which is almost as bad.

When I Was Your Age

Yes, I know any past “golden age” had problems of its own, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look back and say some things were better—Sunday School music, for example. I don’t know what is being taught in your church—or mine, for that matter, not having had small children in Sunday School for several years—but the little I hear, as the sage says, “ain’t like it used to be.” Here is an example of what wise teachers of the past taught to sweet, adorable children like me. That’s how I learned it. Here’s another version. It should be acknowledged that I also learned some lame, stupid stuff like this: Which reminds me of Ralph Hudson’s inexplicable late addition to Isaac Watts’ hymn, “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed“ (”At the Cross”): At the cross, at the cross, Where I first saw the light, And the burden of my heart rolled away. It was there by faith I received my sight, And now I am happy all the day!* So we see, stupid is not new. I just hope someone is still teaching the kids something worth singing. * See why I don’t like this chorus, and the children’s song above, here.

An Explanation: Why I Don’t Like “At the Cross”

I should have expected this: I’ve been asked why I don’t like “At the Cross,” a popular version of Isaac Watts’ “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed” with a chorus tacked on. In this post, I will answer that question. Let me be clear on this: I love the Watts hymn as he wrote it, but I have three objections to this chorus. I’ll begin with the least before moving on to two important criticisms. I’m not a fan of added choruses and so-called bridges. If you think you can write a better song, then have at it, but show some respect and don’t mess with another author’s work. I’m also not usually in favor of updating the language of old hymns. In most cases, your congregation is smart enough to understand a simple explanation of an archaic word or phrase, and it’s better to do that than risk violating the author by changing his meaning, e.g., “Here I raise mine Ebenezer” does not mean “Here I raise my voice to heaven.” As usual, there are exceptions, Watts’ twelve (by my count) references to “bowels” (by which he usually means “heart” as we figuratively use it) in his Psalms and Hymns being most notable. I suspect a “simple explanation,” in those cases, would be inadequate to still the distaste of one demographic and the snickering of another. Moving on to more serious criticisms, let’s begin by reviewing the offending words: At the cross, at the cross, Where I first saw the light, And the burden of my heart rolled away. It was there by faith I received my sight, And now I am happy all the day! —Not Isaac Watts I’ll begin with the first error that caught my eye, that is, the final line: “And now I am happy all the day!” Is this not ridiculous on its face? How many of you who are believers can say that you are happy all day, every day? More importantly, should you be? Do you not have knowledge and experiences that should make you, as disciples of “a man of sorrows” who was “acquainted with grief,” legitimately unhappy? This line is childishly silly, at best, and grotesquely offensive, at worst. Finally, this chorus confuses the doctrines of conversion and justification. I was justified at the cross. This is a major point of doctrine that separates Reformed (and Lutheran) Christians from every errant and heretical form, and one on which we stake our very hope of eternal salvation. Yet this chorus says nothing at all about justification, describing, instead, conversion. But we know, thanks to Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus in John 3 and Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:14ff, that can’t happen until one has been born again, that is, regenerated. This is clearly biblical, and again, fundamental Reformed orthodoxy. As a Reformed minister, Isaac Watts would have abhorred this chorus, giving us all the more reason to reject it, not only as unbiblical and stupid, but as an offense to the hymn’s author. Addendum: Many will think this trivial, but the medium really does carry its own message. Not to mention the light upbeat tone of the chorus. The hymn is heavy and worthy of serious reflection, the stupid added-on chorus is chipper bubble gum pop.— Machel (@trogdor42) January 8, 2019


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